The winners of five straight, including upsets over Florida State and Virginia, the Syracuse Orange traveled to Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Panthers (13th in the ACC) came into the game trying to recover after losing of 7 of the last 8.
After an exciting, buzzer beating victory over Clemson on Tuesday, the Orange came out flat in the first half against Pitt. The tight defense and efficient offense that led the Orange over the last few weeks was seemingly nonexistent. Tyler Lydon, who averaged 15 ppg in conference play coming into Saturday, was held scoreless in the first half. Having to play a lot of minutes at center, he never seemed to get comfortable. Frank Howard, who has been exiled to the bench for most of the season, played 25 minutes in the place of Tyus Battle who was struggling with an illness. Howard had one of his better games this season with 12 points and 2 assists. He also had 0 turnovers, which is something he has struggled with all season. Pittsburgh took the lead within the first 10 minutes of the game and never looked back. The Panthers went into halftime with a 35-28 lead.
The second half was much of the same for Syracuse. The deficit raised to 13 points at the 13-minute mark of the second half. From there, the Orange woke up a bit. Tyler Lydon scored all his 8 points in the second half. Andrew White and John Gillon continued their hot streaks, scoring 20 points each. Unfortunately, that was pretty much the extent of the scoring for the Orange. White and Gillon were the only two Syracuse starters to score in double digits.
As poorly as the Orange played, credit needs to be given to Pittsburgh for their performance. The Panthers shot the lights out, with four of their starters scoring in double digits. Cameron Johnson led Pittsburgh with a near perfect shooting performance. The redshirt sophomore shot 6-9 from the field, including 6-8 for three, for a total of 22 points. Senior Jamel Artis, fighting through an ankle injury, finished the game with 16 points and 10 assists. Great shooting and even better defense led the Panthers to an 80-75 victory over the Orange.
Seemingly out of the NCAA Tournament conversation just three weeks ago, Syracuse had fought back to within one game of the ACC conference lead. This game was viewed as a huge opportunity to bolster the Orange’s chances at a tournament bid. With this loss, it seems to be incredibly more difficult to do so because of the very tough schedule that lies ahead. Of the remaining five games, two will be against #4 Louisville, one will be against #18 Duke and two will be against a very tough Georgia Tech team. The Orange must come together and play as a unit like they did during the win streak. If they don’t, they’ll most likely miss the NCAA Tournament (without a postseason ban) for the first time since the 2007-2008 season.